Exercise: A Vital Treatment for Parkinson’s
For most of my working life I have had a special interest in neurological conditions. However, in the past Parkinson’s disease has at times been challenging to treat. So, I felt really hopeful when a new, more intensive, exercise approach for people with Parkinson’s started showing very good results.
Exercise for Better Movement
Today we know that the right kind of intensive exercise is vital for controlling Parkinson’s symptoms. Exercise improves balance, walking and hand co-ordination. More surprisingly, regular intensive exercise can also reduce tremor. But the benefits of exercise for people with Parkinson’s go far beyond movement.
Exercise for Wellbeing and Thinking
About 50% of people with Parkinson’s suffer from anxiety or depression which can improve with regular physical activity. Exercise can help with memory and thinking too. Exercise can even give you a better night’s sleep, and reduce problems with other non-motor Parkinson’s symptoms like pain and constipation. No wonder people with Parkinson’s who do regular exercise report much better wellbeing than people who are sedentary.
Exercise to Prevent or Slow Down Parkinson’s Progression
For people in the earlier stages of Parkinson’s, regular intensive exercise has now been shown to slow down or even stop progression of symptoms. And it seems that the earlier you start to exercise, the more effective it is in preventing disease progression.
How Does Exercise Slow Parkinson’s?
Scientists now think that intensive exercise may actually change brain chemistry in a way that protects against Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s is caused when a protein called alpha-synuclein accumulates in brain cells. One study by Zhou and Freed suggests that vigorous exercise may turn on a protective gene that prevents the accumulation of alpha-synuclein. Other studies have looked at how exercise protects the brain by releasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor. While we do not yet understand exactly how intensive exercise works in Parkinson’s disease, we can now be sure that it does have wide ranging and significant benefits.
How to Exercise with Parkinson’s
So, it is clear that people with Parkinson’s should be undertaking regular exercise. But exercising with Parkinson’s can be challenging. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, every individual needs to find the exercise best suited to them.
Shetland Parkinson’s Exercise Classes
Since April 2018 Parkinson’s UK have been funding a physiotherapy led exercise service at Yasp physiotherapy clinic. Each participant has a confidential one-to-one assessment with a specialist physiotherapist. Following assessment participants have three choices:
- They can have two further one-to-one sessions, funded by Parkinson’s UK, aimed at establishing an individualised home exercise programme.
- They can join the twice weekly Mighty Moves exercise class at Yasp. This class is free for participants.
- They can be referred to the FAB exercise class for people with more advanced Parkinson’s that is run by Shetland Recreational Trust.
After running the Mighty Moves class at Yasp for three months we audited the results. We were delighted to find that every participant was able to stand up, walk and turn around more quickly. Some had almost doubled their speed.
Class participants also reported improvements in everyday activities such as walking, getting in and out of cars, reaching and writing, as well as reduced symptoms like tremor and stiffness. Participants emphasised how much they appreciate being with others who understand their condition, and the importance of having a good laugh and a social time while exercising.
George Hobbin describes his experience at the class:
I have been attending Yasp exercise class for Parkinson’s since April 2018. I have found that after classes I have more spring in my step, and it is a lot easier to get over my style to feed my hens. I am also finding that brushing my teeth is easier.
Half way through the class we stop for a short break, where we can have a drink of water and speak to other sufferers. This is also a great benefit as we can discuss any improvements we have noticed and speak to others who understand.
The Yasp Mighty Moves class often choose a topic for discussion in the break, e.g. sleeping difficulties or pain, with Yasp providing information leaflets and advice.
To find out more about the Parkinson’s exercise service at Yasp phone Margaret Gear on 01595 747074.
Margaret Gear MSc, MCSP